Women of the Harlem Renaissance – 3

The Stomp. 1927 Sketch by Miguel Covarrubias. Courtesy When Harlem Was in Vogue.

To Usward by Gwendolyn Bennett

Let us be still
As ginger jars are still
Upon a Chinese shelf.
And let us be contained
By entities if self….
Not still with lethargy and sloth,
But quiet with the pushing of our growth.
Not self-contained with smug identity
But conscious of the strength in entity.
If any have a song to sing
That's different from the rest,
Oh let them sing
Before the urgency of Youth's behest!
For some of us have songs to sing
Of jungle heat and fires,
And some of us are solemn grown
With pitiful desires,
And there are those who feel the pull
Of seas beneath the skies,
And some there be who want to croon

The Strut. 1927 Sketch by Miguel Covarrubias. Courtesy When Harlem Was in Vogue

Of Negro lullabies.
We claim no part with racial dearth;
We want to sing the songs of birth!
And so we stand like ginger jars
Like ginger jars bound ‘round
With dust and age;
Like jars of ginger we are sealed
By nature’s heritage.
But let us break the seal of years
With pungent thrusts of song,
For there is joy in long-dried tears
For whetted passions of a throng!


Gwendolyn Bennett. Photo courtesy OldPoetry.com

Gwendolyn Bennett made her debut as a poet at a 1924 Civic Club dinner which brought together black writers and white publishers. The poem she read, “To Usward,” became an anthem of the movement.